Mikkel Rygaard terminated his contract with ŁKS due to financial arrears In early November Mikkel Rygaard said ‘enough‘ and terminated his contract with ŁKS. According to the player, he had the right to do so, because the club owed him large amount of money, including two salaries, bonuses and the signing fee. In an interview with Piotr Koźmiński for ‘Sportowe Fakty‘, the player indicated that on 11th of October he had sent the club a call for payment, with a 14-days deadline to repay the arrears. ŁKS didn’t react in any way to the call and after 23 days the player terminated his contract due to the club’s fault.
Only after the termination of the contract the player was to receive one overdue salary. If the version presented by the player is true, both in terms of the national regulations of the Polish Football Association (PZPN) as well as the international regulations of FIFA, the player had grounds to terminate his contract. In the aforementioned interview the player said that he had not only referred the matter to the PZPN, but also informed FIFA. The question may arise – which court, FIFA or PZPN, can in principle resolve disputes between Polish clubs and foreigners?
Disputes between Polish clubs and foreign players
One of significant problems faced by Polish clubs is the fact that it is impossible to conduct financial disputes, (i.e. for the payment of outstanding salaries or compensation) before the court of the Polish Football Association. All such disputes have so far been resolved by FIFA’s competent court, the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (hereinafter ‘DRC FIFA‘).
Settlement of disputes by the DRC FIFA is a solution unfavourable to the clubs, because the costs of conducting international proceedings are usually higher, it takes much longer and the FIFA court itself is less familiar with the national socio-economic reality and, finally is not bound by the internal regulations of the Polish Football Association, in particular the provisions of Resolution III/54 of the Polish Football Association governing the minimum requirements of contracts between a professional player and a club.
As an example, a club relegated from a league, in accordance with the provisions of the aforementioned Resolution III/54, may terminate the contract of any player with one month notice. Unfortunately, a club terminating a contract with a foreign player was in for an unpleasant surprise. The FIFA court have ruled that a team’s relegation to a lower league is not a sufficient ground for unilateral contract termination under international law. The club unfortunately had to submit to the obligation to pay compensation to the player.
Amendments in PZPN regulations concerning the Football Arbitration Court of PZPN
As we wrote over a year ago, PZPN had made changes to its internal rules governing the competences of its jurisdictional bodies, which were responsible for resolving financial and non-financial disputes.
As a result of the introduced changes, the Chamber for Resolution of Sports Disputes (IRSS) was liquidated, and its competencies were transferred to the Football Arbitration Court of the Polish Football Association (hereinafter PSP PZPN). The former was responsible mainly for resolving disputes between players and clubs regarding validity of football contracts, including cases concerning the possibility of terminating a contract if one of the parties committed a serious breach of contract.
The PSP PZPN, on the other hand, settled property disputes. In other words, when a club owed a player more than 3 months’ salary, the IRSS resolved whether the player could terminate the contract due to the club’s fault. Then PSP PZPN decided if and how big compensation a player could claim due to a termination of a contract due to a club’s fault. Currently both issues are resolved by PSP PZPN. This means that the body exclusively authorized to settle disputes concerning the validity of contracts, claiming damages or payment of due remuneration is PSP PZPN.
New rules of the Polish Football Association PSP and disputes between Polish clubs and foreign players
As we wrote over a year ago, the key change brought about by the amendments to the Polish Football Association’s statute and the transfer of competences of the Chamber for Resolution of Sports Disputes to the Football Arbitration Court was the establishment of new rules for the selection of PSP PZPN arbitrators. This body consists now of 32 arbitrators (before the change there were between 25 and 27), including arbitrators each proposed by: league football players environment (10), league clubs environment (10) and the Chairman of the Court (11).
This is important, thus according to the FIFA regulations (FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players), disputes involving foreigners are referred directly to the FIFA competent court, unless the national court is able to ensure the minimum requirements for the fairness and integrity of such proceedings.
Since, prior to the amendment to the PZPN statute, all PSP PZPN arbitrators had been selected by the PZPN Board at its discretion, in FIFA’s view the PSP PZPN did not provide the minimum requirements for the independence and integrity of a football arbitration tribunal. All disputes had to be referred to the FIFA DRC.
The actual effects of the changes to the PZPN Football Arbitration Court
The Football Arbitration Court of the Polish Football Association started operating with a new composition in the spring of 2021, i.e. among arbitrators there are both persons proposed by the clubs and the players. Unfortunately, at the moment it is impossible to say whether the PSP PZPN in its new shape can settle disputes involving foreign players and the principles of functioning of the Polish Football Court will not raise doubts of the FIFA bodies.
As Mateusz Stankiewicz pointed out on Twitter in the dispute between Rakov Częstochowa and Emir Azemović DRC FIFA decided that PSP PZPN does not have the competence to settle disputes between a player and a club at the expense of DRC FIFA. In the case in question, however, the DRC did not explicitly address the issue of new rules of the PSP PZPN.
The FIFA court decided that the provision in the player’s contract regulating the issue of the court could raise doubts, as it referred to the legal status before the reform. It provided for disputes to be resolved by the Football Arbitration Court of the Polish Football Association or the Chamber for Resolution of Sports Disputes.
Given the above, it is expected that the matter will reappear in the near future and the FIFA DRC will evaluate on the amended statute of the Football Arbitration Court of the Polish Football Association.
Clubs signing a contract with a foreign player should therefore pay particular attention to the provision regarding the choice of the court that will resolve potential disputes between the player and the club. The clause should not raise any doubts and should unequivocally specify one court. On the other hand, foreign players who do not wish their disputes to be resolved in a Polish court should ensure that the clause concerning the choice of court specifies the relevant FIFA court.
Author: Artur Meissner